ANNAPOLIS, Md. — At a time when Republican-led states are restricting or banning abortion and limiting gender-affirming care, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed measures into law on Wednesday to protect abortion rights and expand Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming treatment in the heavily Democratic state.
Maryland voters will decide a constitutional amendment next year to enshrine abortion protections in the Maryland Constitution. While the right to abortion already is protected in the state’s law, supporters of the constitutional amendment say that will make it even harder for opponents to try to strip away abortion rights in the future.
“In this moment of serious consequences for women and for all Marylanders, Maryland can and will lead on this issue of abortion access,” Moore said, adding that the state will “always be a safe haven for abortion access and abortion rights.”
Here is a look at some of the legislation signed by Moore, a Democrat, on Wednesday:
One new law is designed to protect patients and providers from criminal, civil and administrative penalties relating to abortion bans or restrictions in other states. The governor also signed a separate data-privacy bill to protect medical and insurance records on reproductive health in electronic health information exchanges that can be shared quickly and widely across state lines. Moore signed another bill to ensure public colleges and universities in Maryland have a plan for student access near campuses to birth control, including emergency contraception and abortion pills.
The Trans Health Equity Act expands the number of procedures relating to gender-affirming care that are covered by the state’s Medicaid program. Starting Jan. 1, Medicaid must provide coverage for gender-affirming treatment, meaning any medically necessary treatment consistent with current clinical standards of care prescribed by a licensed health care provider for the treatment of a condition related to the individual’s gender identity.
“In our state, no one should ever have to justify their humanity,” Moore said. “In our state, no one should have to justify their own humanness, and that’s what the Trans Health Equity Act is all about, and it’s the legislation that we need,”
The governor signed legislation that creates licensing and tax rates to open a recreational marijuana market on July 1. In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment with 67% of the vote to enable adults ages 21 and older to be able to legally possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will be able to have dual licenses to sell recreational marijuana. There will be additional licenses available with priority given to minority owners in communities that have been negatively affected by past marijuana laws. The tax rate will be 9%.
“The criminalization of marijuana harmed low-income communities and communities of color in a profound way,” Moore said. “We want to make sure that the legalization of marijuana lifts those communities now in a profound way.”
On Monday, the Moore administration announced that the governor has put his assets, which included nearly $1.2 million of stock in a cannabis company, into a blind trust designed to prevent a conflict of interest. The State Ethics Commission approved the transfer of Moore’s list of holdings into a blind trust managed by Brown Investment Advisory & Trust Company last week.
Moore signed two measures to expand access to affordable health insurance. One of them will automatically enroll recipients of SNAP benefits into Medicaid who are eligible but not yet enrolled. The law is designed to reduce paperwork and help an estimated 65,000 uninsured Marylanders get the health coverage.
Another new law will extend a pilot program for another two years, providing state subsidies to bring down the cost of health insurance for young adults ages 18-34.
The governor also signed a package of mental health measures that focus on getting people help earlier, preferably in community and primary care settings, before they experience a mental health crisis requiring costly trips to the emergency room or in-patient care. One measure sets aside funding in 2025 to pay for a 988 suicide and crisis prevention hotline.